I recently re-read Nicholas Monsarrat’s fictionalised account of his time serving on the Atlantic Convoys, The Cruel Sea. My husband bought me the DVD of the film for Christmas, as well as Western Approaches,written and directed by Pat Jackson. We watched the former, and it has certainly stood the test of time. Like others my age, as a child I spent many a Sunday afternoon watching the old black and white war films. Jack Hawkins is marvellous in the lead role, supported by a fantastic cast of British stalwarts.
I was prompted to put the film on my Amazon Wish-List (currently 54 items!) by a visit to the National Maritime Museum on 19 November last year to a small exhibition about the Arctic Convoys, mounted to mark the 70th Anniversary of the first Allied convoy to Russia during the Second World War. The convoys carried vital supplies to the Soviet Union – more than 4 million tons of supplies including tanks, fighter planes, fuel, ammunition, raw materials and food. We had heard about this on PM on Radio 4, when Eddie Mair had interviewed a wonderful gentleman, Edward Cordery, who had served on HMS Belfast, signing up at the age of 17. A number of veterans were, we were told, travelling to the Museum on that day to meet members of the public. We made sure we got there, as we felt this was an unmissable opportunity to meet, listen to, thank and shake the hands of these men. We also informed Phil Winter, the son of Bill Winter, who died on the Convoys and is included in my book Southborough War Memorial, and he travelled up with his son.
We felt moved and honoured to meet these courteous and humble, now elderly men, and so grateful for the chance to do so. These included Edward Cordery, Robert Sutton (HMS Berwick), Mr Micklewhite (3 years’ service on HMS Belfast, and who had travelled down from Liverpool for the day), Mr Webb from Bournemouth, and Charles, who lives in Greenwich, now 86 years old, and who had come along to see the exhibition, having himself served in the Pacific.
Needless to say, this is not a hymn to the so-called glory of war. Harry Patch, the WW1 veteran, memorably said that in his opinion war was murder, nothing else.
I continue to add information on my SWM Extra page about the war casualties of Southborough, and have begun a new page for those who did not die, but were injured.
For further details of the Arctic Convoys, here are two excellent BBC links: